This paper reviews the effects of benzodiazepines (BZs) on the performance of tasks measuring human cognitive abilities. The paper reviews the most common cognitive side effects of BZs: increased sedation, decreased attention, and anterograde amnesia. In particular, this paper focuses on recent findings regarding time course-related effects on BZ-induced deficits in explicit and implicit human memory performance. Specifically, we reviewed recent research indicating that both explicit memory and “priming” are impaired by BZs if the encoding task takes place near the time of the theoretical peak plasma concentrations of the drug. Although BZs also appear to increase objective and subjective sedation, as well as to impair attentional processing, these other cognitive impairments do not appear to fully account for the widespread memory deficits caused by BZ administration. The theoretical and clinical implications of benzodiazepine-induced memory impairments are discussed.
Susan Buffett-Jerrott, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Life Sciences Centre, 1355 Oxford Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.